K-State Salina raising money for rat training

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jan 20, 2012 in Rat News | Subscribe

The K-State Salina Students in Free Enterprise group has found a new pet project: raise money for trained rats in Africa to detect land mines, bombs and even diseases, like tuberculosis.

The HeroRAT program was launched by APOPO, a non-profit organization in Tanzania. The program trains giant African pouched rats to sniff out mines and other explosives.

Jacqueline Wood, coordinator of the Academic Advising Center at K-State Salina and adviser for SIFE, said she first read about the program in a news article and felt the HeroRAT program had similar goals to SIFE’s, to “empower people to make their own resources and care for themselves.”

“I like animals and I like it when animals and humans work together,” Wood said.

She told SIFE members about the program and Brett Cooper, junior in technology management at K-State Salina, volunteered to lead the fundraising project.

“I just thought it was something really neat to do,” Cooper said.

The rats have several advantages over traditional methods of detection, such as dogs. Although the giant African pouched rat is considerably larger than the rats most Americans are familiar with — about six pounds, which is the size of a small house cat — they are light enough to avoid setting off explosives by stepping on or scratching them. Bomb-sniffing dogs can take years to train properly, whereas the training for a rat only takes about a year. Because of the faster training, and since rats are easier to transport and eat less than dogs, they are much cheaper.

One disadvantage to their size is they can not cover as much ground in a day as a dog. According to their official website, apopo.org, 1,300,012 acres of land were cleared in 2009.

Rats have also been trained by APOPO to detect tuberculosis in lab samples. In 2009, the rats found 561 cases of TB that were initially missed by technicians, which prevented about 8,000 potential transmissions. According to the United States Agency for International Development, at usaid.gov, Tanzania and Mozambique are both high-burden tuberculosis countries. There were 120,191 new TB cases diagnosed in Tanzania in 2007.

“Once I learned about the program, I was really impressed by it,” said Antonio Hearn, senior in computer systems technology at K-State Salina, and member of SIFE.

K-State Salina’s SIFE group held a fundraiser for the HeroRAT program at PETCO in Salina. PETCO provided opportunities for customers to get acquainted with domesticated pet rats while learning about the HeroRAT program. SIFE raised $166 at the event and plan to hold another fundraiser at PETCO at a later date.

Hearn said he enjoyed watching people, especially children, play with the rats. He said parents often “thought they were gross,” while the children were excited to interact with them.

“Kids seem to be a little more open-minded, having them as pets,” Hearn said.

Wood said the initial goal of SIFE was to raise $500, which would provide enough funding to clear 250 square meters of minefield. Several SIFE members, including Cooper, would like to raise $7,350 to train a mine field rat. Persons interested in donating to the HeroRAT program may contact Jacqueline Wood at jqwood@sal.ksu.edu.

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